2008 started out as the year of the woman in American politics. Carrying the mantle of the Democratic Party’s strongest political brand, Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy to the nomination seemed all but inevitable. Smart, capable, and pragmatic, Clinton broke through what many considered the last remaining barrier to a female president: by the end of her campaign no one doubted her ability to be commander-in-chief.

Many wondered if we would ever see a woman ascend to the presidency. Sure there are 18 million cracks in that ultimate glass ceiling, but if Hillary, with all her talent, resources, and connections couldn’t break through it, what other woman would stand a chance?

How quaint those concerns seem now as we witness the debacle of America’s top two female politicians. That’s right. Two. We’re not just talking about Palin here…

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What started out as a stellar year for women in politics has turned into farce and, possibly, tragedy.

Palin is cramming for her debate at John and Cindy McCain’s ranch in Sedona, Arizona — home, if you recall, to the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, when according to the spiritualist Jose Arguelles, the earth risked slipping out of its “time beam” and spinning off into space.

After Palin’s explanation of the $700 billion bailout (better known as “healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, um helping the… uh, it’s got to be all about job creation too … Oh and trade” plan), could they have picked a more fitting place?

The only beneficiary of a Palin vice presidency would be Tina Fey, who not only would be assured of work every Saturday night, but barely has to change a word of a Palin interview transcript.

Still, laughable (or scary) as Palin is, it can’t be said that the current highest-ranking woman in American politics did much better at explaining the bailout bill to the American people — or her Democratic colleagues.

In better times, one might expect a good enough explanation to have come from the president, but Nancy Pelosi knows better than anyone that no one is listening anymore to the President who cried wolf.

As the highest ranking person outside the administration (second in succession to the presidency), Pelosi could have calmed the hysteria about Congress spending $700 billion ($700 billion!!) by pointing to the huge amounts of money the administration could spend bailing out individual firms through its current programs. Passage of the bailout bill would have provided a more systemic solution along with more stringent oversight and caps on executive payouts.

Unlike Palin’s political disintegration, Nancy Pelosi’s failure is fittingly not filtered by parody: the consequences of it are far too grave for the American people and the world. Pelosi was not only unable to turn a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives into passage of the bailout bill, but she left the US and the world hanging with no immediate plans for a re-vote, much less a re-think. With many of her colleagues all of a sudden discovering their Jewish heritage to sneak home to campaign, it was left to the Senate to sort out the mess.

While no one can place any stock in those Republicans who blame the bill’s failure on Pelosi’s very partisan speech on the House floor right before the vote, that doesn’t excuse the fact that it was a decidedly stupid thing to do before such a critical vote. Worse still is that she even let the bill go to a vote. No Speaker worth her gavel would be so foolish as to allow such a sensitive bill (the failure of which sent the Dow to its greatest drop in history) to go forward without the hardcore number crunching and vote whipping that assured its victory. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that no steps were taken by the Democratic leadership to compel lawmakers to vote for the bill. On the eve of an election, when politicians are most sensitive to grouchy voters, Pelosi was content to roll the dice.

Of course the failures of Palin and Pelosi should have no bearing on other women in politics, but that’s not always the way the world works. Palin’s fumbles are thankfully happening during a campaign, giving America the opportunity to ensure she doesn’t get close to a heartbeat way from the presidency. Pelosi’s are happening on the job, one which, if the Democratic Party were serious about bringing the “change we need” to Washington, she should lose come the new Congressional term next year.

Chip Rolley is a freelance journalist.

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